Wordsmith Wednesday: Rupi Kaur’s “milk and honey”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is from Rupi Kaur’s milk and honey.

The poem reads:

“you said, if it is meant to be. fate will bring us back
together. for a second I wonder if you are really
that naïve. if you really believe fate works like
that. as if it lives in the sky staring down at us. as
if it has five fingers and spends its time placing us
like pieces of chess. as if it is not the choices we
make. who taught you that. tell me. who
convinced you. you’ve been given a heart and
a mind that isn’t yours to use. that your actions
do not define what will become of you. i want to
scream and shout it’s us you fool. we’re the only
ones that can bring us back together. but
instead I sit quietly. smiling softly through
quivering lips thinking. isn’t it such a tragic thing.
when you can see it so clearly but the other person
doesn’t.”

Kaur’s milk and honey has become a companion to me. Something I carry and reference constantly. Each poem a beautifully crafted image of the daily internal and external struggles we face, pointed and direct. Though they are short and clear, I have spent hours indulging in certain poems, their words weighing heavy. I’ve read and reread them until my shock towards the raw, unadulterated realness subsides, leaving me that much more connected to my present state of mind.

In order to alleviate responsibility, we often find intangible concepts to take on our own difficulties. They act as surrogates to ourselves, relinquishing the blame of indecision and inactivity. If we leave the decision up to an omnipotent being, or “fate,” then we no longer are accountable. The reality of the matter is that we are the ones who must make the choices that propel us to where we want to be. We do not leave it in the hands of “the world” to guide us or shape us. This is much more difficult than the former. Working hard to achieve the job you want, the relationship you want to work, or the mindset you’d like to be in is not easy. It takes time, effort, and a realization that you want this change. The end result, the satisfaction received from knowing that it was your actions, you in your entirety, that got you there, is what makes it worth it.

– KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)”

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Our words this week come from the opening verse of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” off his 2012 modern classic good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

The lyrics are:

“Now I done grew up ’round some people livin’ their life in bottles
Granddaddy had the golden flask, backstroke every day in Chicago
Some people like the way it feels, some people wanna kill their sorrows
Some people wanna fit in with the popular, that was my problem”

Choosing lines to highlight off this record was not easy. I could have shone a light on the pure storytelling of “The Art of Peer Pressure” or the fresh juxtapositions of parallel yet conflicting corrupting forces being explored in each verse on “Good Kid” or the masterful fourth-wall-breaking, character-constructing introspection and self-analysis on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is a poetry collection, sparkling with wordplay, cemented in themes, and threaded with narrative. I chose these lines because they’re a beautiful example of Lamar’s ability to paint a rich picture and implant himself in it to navigate the details of that landscape. A celebration of indulgence on the surface, this song/poem unrolls to engage the social and psychological motivations for alcoholism, but that engagement rests on the foundation provided by this acknowledgement of Lamar’s understanding of the issue on a personal as well as a sociological level in these first lines. Wrapped up in a narrative of love / poverty / faith / violence / success / guilt, this song (especially the extended version) always resonates as an honest attempt to approach the causes and effects of alcoholism without being disconnected or self-righteous. It makes me think of myself, my family, and my future. It places both author and audience within narrative: at the bar, in the club, on the couch. It swirls and strikes. It weaves and breaths heavy. It’s K-Dot trying to connect the stray dots in permanent marker for you (and him) to learn from.

– NR

kendrick

Wordsmith Wednesday: Modest Mouse’s “Florida”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from the song “Florida” by Modest Mouse off their 2007 album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.

It reads:

“Even as I left Florida
Far enough, far enough
Wasn’t far enough
Couldn’t quite seem to escape myself
Far enough, far enough
Far from Florida (…)
I stood on my heart supports thinkin’
‘Oh my god, I’ll probably have to carry this whole load.’
I couldn’t remember if I tried.”

Though I by no means would consider this one of my favorite Modest Mouse songs (or albums), and I know we’ve quoted them plenty of times, right now, every time I hear these lines, they resonate in an almost unexplainable, intangible way.

These lines aren’t complicated or flowery, they aren’t meant to make you think intensely about what their meaning could be, they’re pointed, they are clear, and they are a feeling that most of us have experienced but have found difficulty vocalizing.

It’s the notion that we get when we decide to create distance between ourselves and our surroundings, physically and through distractions, believing that a change of scenery will fix everything we have been struggling to face, when in reality it’s ourselves and our own mind that we are trying to create distance from.

– KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Octavio Paz’ “Although it is night”

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Our words this week come from the second and third sections of Octavio Paz’ poem “Although it is night” from his 1988 collection, A Tree Within.

The words are:

II

While I’m reading in Mexico City,
what time is it now in Moscow?
It’s late, it’s always late,
in history it is always night,
always the wrong time.
Solzhenitsyn writes,
the paper is burning, his writing goes on,
cruel dawn on a plain of bones.

I was a coward, I did not face evil,
and now the century confirms the philosopher:
Evil? A pair of eyes with no face,
an abundant void.
Evil:
a nobody somebody, a nothing something.

Did Stalin have a face?
Suspicion
ate his face and soul and will.
Fear populated his soulless night,
his insomnia decimated Russia.

III

The party is always right
Leon Trotsky

Stalin had no soul:
he had history.
Uninhabited Marshal without a face,
servant of nothing. Evil unmasked:
the maggot becomes Caesar. A ghost’s
triumph: his memorial marks a pit.
Nothingness is the great harder of nobodies.
And as for the others: evil takes away their faces
in the same unreal game that shuffles us all.
Circular suffering, circular guilt: the spool,
unwound, history relieves their pain
by killing them off. Discourse in a frozen knife:

Dialectic, the bloody solipsism
that invented the enemy from itself.

In a political era in which facts seem every day to be consciously ignored or subverted by superstition, it’s important to remember the lesson of history that blind faith in an authority, even of your flavor, is dangerous for the average person. Paranoia, suspicion, threats. Isolation and insolation. All common attributes for a brutal, detached dictator such as Stalin, the maggot become marshal, but not normal in a nation that prides itself on the ideals of freedom of speech, information, and thought. As partisanship further dominates political discourse, be careful to pledge allegiance to the president or the party rather than the people. Truth is more synthesis than genesis. We must resist the urge to invent reality from within ourselves rather than around ourselves. History and poetry may have some answers on how to do that.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: The Evens’ “Cut from the Cloth”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from the song “Cut From the Cloth” by The Evens.

It goes:

“Cut from the cloth, and cut quite severely
Is this my world I no longer recognize
I’m hearing common words, common expressions
But nothing is common in my eyes”

With the world changing dramatically and traumatically over the last handful of weeks, so much that we have always conceived of as familiar is no longer the same to us. Friends and family being pushed out of their homes, people fearing for their lives, and others entirely unsure of what their future, if there is one, in this country holds anymore. And yet there are still those who are pleased with the outcome, pleased with what will inevitably be their own demise.

At times it feels as if we have only been viewing the world through rose-colored glasses and have finally taken them off, leading to the realization that everything we thought we knew about the world, the people of the world, what we thought everyone believed in, is no longer true. In 2006, The Evens were able to articulate the exact disbelief we feel. Simply put, MacKaye and Farina’s lyrics resonate with the lack of familiarity that surrounds us every day now.

– KK

the-evens

Wordsmith Wednesday: Mississippi John Hurt “Frankie”

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The words we’re highlighting this week are from Mississippi John Hurt’s song “Frankie” recorded in 1928.

The words are:

“He’s my man and he done me wrong”

The ominous directness this line exemplifies some of the beautiful power of the blues. The use of variations of this line as a refrain throughout a song about the murder of a cheating man serves to tease out truth so deep and black you can’t help but reach your hand into it. This is a declaration assumedly as ancient as human relationships.This is love, betrayal, and justice all wrapped up into an honest, simple package that anyone ever burned by a partner can understand. This is a reminder to treat your lover with respect or the judge, whether secular or in the sky, may find them justified for putting you down in the smoke of their gun.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Jewel “Daddy”

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This week’s words come from Jewel’s song “Daddy” off her 1994 album Pieces Of You.

The lyrics are:

“My bones are tired, Daddy
I don’t get enough sleep
I don’t eat as good as I should, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I sleep past noon, Daddy
Drink lots of black coffee and I smoke like a chimney
Yes, I left the refrigerator door half open, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I want to rip out your throat, Daddy
For all those things you said that were mean
Gonna make you just as vunerable as I was, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I want to bash in your teeth, Daddy
Gonna use your tongue as a stamp
Gonna rip your heart out the way you did mine, Daddy
Go ahead and psycho-analyse it
‘Cause I’m your creation, I’m your love, Daddy
Grew up to be and do all those sick things you said I’d do
Well last night I saw you sneak out your window
With your white hood, Daddy
What’s that say about you?
I’m sloppy, what’s that say about you?
I’m messy, what’s that say about you?
My bones are tired, Daddy”

I remember listening to this record on big, red leather headphones on my dad’s old receiver at my childhood house in Tinley Park. As a child, I didn’t quite understand the implications of child abuse but I could tell by the delivery and repetitive questioning that these lines were meant as provocations against a mean, white supremacist parent. Jewel’s technique of holding a monologic conversation with a manipulative father gradually unpacks her insecurities, assumedly enforced by psychological/emotional abuse, but flips that insecurity into pointed contempt as the song unfolds. Through this trick, she owns her brokenness and exposes the cracks in the force determined to break her. This album opened me up to a variety of new perspectives and emotions as a boy, but this song still stands as a statement of strength that can be forged from pain, a righteous spit in the face of the ignorant oppressor/abuser. Keep spitting.

– NR

jewel